_____“Who left dirty dishes in the sink?”
_____She wanted to shout it. But in the cool, gray air of dawn, her voice would have carried, and her daughter was still sleeping.
_____Anyway, she knew who did it. He was still sleeping too, snoring lightly in the bed she had just left. Probably rolled over to take the heat from her still lingering in the sheets.
_____Running her hand along the sink’s smooth edge, she appraised the aftermath: the once rubbery noodles baked hard to the pan; the smear of red sauce across the plate; the half eaten meatball speared with a fork.
_____Her mother knew lazy men. “Look at those hands,” she had commanded. “They’re soft like your father’s. He won’t lift those fingers to help you.”
_____Yeah. But he had done other things with those fingers. Like hold her tight and stroke her in lovely ways.
_____Even last night when he came to bed after his shift. He ran his hand along her arm just right. He had smelled nice too, all freshly soaped and showered. She had nuzzled her body into his, smelling his nice smell through the haze of near sleep.
_____She wondered too though. Wondered if she should come up through the haze and ask him if he had cleaned up. But after a moment, she dropped her suspicions, choosing to hold on to that little joy in the dark.
_____As far as marital crimes went, it was a small one. Just a minor misdemeanor.
_____But it wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last no matter what she said.
_____How many small crimes added up to a big one? How many dirty dishes in the sink, how many times being late for pick-ups, how many toilet seats left up amounted to a felonious assault on their being together?
_____If she couldn’t trust him with the small stuff, how could she trust him with the big stuff? The stuff that mattered. Like continuing to care enough about her to keep touching her in lovely ways.
_____She picked at the dried cheese with the knife.
_____It was lighter now in the kitchen, and she recognized the time that had passed. Looking at the clock, “Damn, damn!” She couldn’t be late again.
_____As she ran to her bus, she noticed she still had the knife. She wondered what she should do with it.
_____Joyce stood by the stove and rubbed the patch on her arm through her nightshirt. Its roses, once so red, had faded with a million washings.
_____“Rub it.” That’s what Carol at work had said. “When those cravings get bad, rub it hard. That releases the nicotine faster. Uh-huh,” she had said.
_____Joyce still wasn’t sure. Carol had a lot of goofy theories she felt free to share. This morning, Joyce didn’t care. Goofy idea or not, the cravings were bad. So she rubbed.
_____Crazy Carol. And Yolanda. She was a real winner too. With those nails. So long and bright and always matched to her lipstick.
_____Carol and some of the other girls would laugh about Yolanda behind her back. “Who did she think she was getting all fabulous just for office work?”
_____Joyce laughed too.
_____But maybe not as hard. Those nails were kind of something. And long as they were, Yolanda could type. Clickety-clackety. One even had a little diamond in it. Not a real diamond, Joyce knew. She wasn’t stupid. Not real, but it sparkled like maybe it could be real.
_____Goddamn this water was taking so long. The flames on these dinky stoves were so pale and tiny.
_____She looked out the window over the sink. Beyond the roof of the house next door, she could see the sky. No clouds and already bright enough to make her blink. There was just too much sun in this town sometimes.
_____A lady singing about how much she loved her honey floated from the clock radio next to the open sleeper sofa.
_____That’d be nice, Joyce thought. A stray thought for one more stray morning.
_____The water in the pan bubbled, and Joyce poured it into the cup. She watched the deep brown crystals turn muddy.
_____The screen door banged behind Joyce as she stepped onto the stoop.
_____Across the courtyard, Mr. Ruiz was cleaning his grill. That guy was always grilling. Loved feeding all those kids and grandkids of his. Always coming and going and making such a racket. Laughing and yelling. Laughing mostly.
_____Joyce took a sip and then shaded her eyes. So bright. Even this early.
_____Mr. Ruiz looked up and smiled.
_____Joyce went to rub her arm, but waved instead. She paused and then smiled a bit too. She would ask Yolanda where she got her nails done. Sure she would, she told herself as she went back inside to get dressed for work.
John Brady is a writer based in Portland, OR, whose fiction and non-fiction writing has appeared in various outlets, including Exposition Review, the Los Angeles Review, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Mother Jones, Punk Planet, the Los Angeles Daily News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and on National Public Radio.